Geno Auriemma calls out McGraw, Notre Dame

NOTEBOOK

CURT RALLO
South Bend Tribune

TOLEDO, Ohio — Notre Dame women’s basketball coach Muffet McGraw wouldn’t stoop to getting into a war of words with Connecticut coach Geno Auriemma, but her postgame victory smile quickly gave way to a game face when she was informed of his latest comments.

Auriemma, responding to McGraw’s remarks that Connecticut ducked the Irish when it came to playing a regular-season game this season, told reporters in Storrs, Conn., “The scheduling part ... Let me just say it’s not nice to fib during Lent. That’s all I would have to say about that.”

McGraw didn’t want to respond to Auriemma’s personal comments about her, but emphatically denied that she or anyone associated Notre Dame has not told the truth about the scheduling issues with Connecticut. She said that when the news broke that the Irish were leaving the Big East after last season for the Atlantic Coast Conference, Notre Dame wanted to keep Connecticut on the schedule, but that the Huskies claimed they couldn’t work anything out for this season.

“We tried to work something out for this season,” McGraw said. “We wanted to play them, and they finally agreed for next season.”

Notre Dame and Connecticut have agreed to a two-year deal that starts next season with a game in South Bend on Dec. 6. There were harsh words from both sides throughout the process for the new deal.

At one point, Notre Dame women’s basketball media relations director Chris Masters issued a statement responding to Connecticut claims that the Irish hadn’t contacted UConn about resuming the series.

"The recent published reports that Notre Dame is not interested in playing Connecticut in the near future are completely false, extremely disappointing and, frankly, baffling,” Masters stated. “The recent reports were particularly disappointing in light of the fact that the coach responsible for Notre Dame’s scheduling had left a message for Connecticut’s scheduling administrator regarding a game in 2014-15 on November 25 — just seven days before the media reports regarding Notre Dame’s alleged lack of interest.”

Auriemma also accused McGraw of embellishing when she said on an ESPN NCAA Selection Show interview last Monday that the Irish had gotten pretty good at beating UConn the last couple of years (Notre Dame has won seven of the last nine meetings with Con-necticut), and when she said that Kayla McBride was the best player in the country and that Michaela Mabrey was the best sixth man in the country.

Auriemma referenced his and McGraw’s shared Philadephia background when responding to McGraw’s comments about McBride and Mabrey.

“When you grow up in Philadelphia you tend to exaggerate,’’ Auriemma said in numerous published reports. “I know that first-hand, trust me.”

Auriemma said that coaches have to praise their own players, otherwise, they wouldn’t be popular in the locker room.

Notre Dame (33-0) and Connecticut (34-0) are both No. 1 seeds in the NCAA women’s basketball tournament. There has never been a meeting in the NCAA women’s or men’s basketball national championship game of two unbeaten teams, which is where the Irish and Huskies would meet if the brackets play their way.

A for effort

Notre Dame’s freshman point guard Lindsay Allen won rave reviews from her toughest critic, Irish assistant coach Niele Ivey.

“I think that she has so much poise,” Ivey said. “You forget that she is a freshman.”

Ivey gave Allen an A for her NCAA debut. Allen only scored one basket, an early drive to the hoop, but she had seven assists and only one turnover.

Allen ran the Irish offense efficiently, particularly in fastbreak mode. She was aggressive on offense, and pressured the ball to help the Irish force 17 turnovers while only allowing nine assists by Robert Morris.

Poise is the most important aspect of Allen’s game that Ivey wanted to see, and it was there from the opening tip.

“She didn’t come out nervous at all,” Ivey said.

Lockdown

Artemis Spanou of Robert Morris entered the Notre Dame game leading the nation with 28 double-doubles this season. She left the first-round 93-46 loss on Saturday without a double in either points or rebounds.

Notre Dame rotated several players off Spanou, primarily Natalie Achonwa and Markisha Wright. Spanou faced a double team designed to limit her touches. The Irish have had trouble with strong posts in past games. Duke’s Elizabeth Williams scored 17 points and had 16 rebounds in Notre Dame’s last game, a 69-53 win over the Blue Devils in the ACC Tournament championship game. Maryland’s Alyssa Thomas had 29 points and 12 rebounds against the Irish, and Natasha Howard for Florida State had 29 points.

Achonwa said that the key to success in playing post defense is to stay one step ahead of the play.

“It’s actually your foot speed, and making sure that you’re not getting too jammed up and too focused on the physicality,” Achonwa said of the defensive principles in the post. “You want to stay quick and stay agile so you can front, especially with our defensive mindset of having a lot of movement and who’s in help.”

No crying foul

Nobody gets a break when the Irish divide up the squad at practice for a scrimmage.

McGraw won’t allow fouls to be called in order to make her players tougher, and so they won’t quit on a play.

“I don’t want them listening to the whistle, or complaining to the referees,” McGraw said. “I want them to understand that there are times in the game when you think you got fouled, but you really didn’t, and you have to play through it.”

Having fun

Notre Dame has 33 opponents who can testify to the fact that the Irish are tough on the court, but McGraw also wants to see some smiles from the Irish when they’re making magic happen.

McGraw said although the Irish want to win, basketball is not a business. She wants players to oooh and ahhh when Jewell Loyd soars for an alley oop. She wants a sheepish smile when a 3 gets banked in. She wants hard play, but she wants her team to enjoy the fun moments.

“Fun is important,” McGraw said. “We like to relax and enjoy the journey.”

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Notre Dame head coach Muffet McGraw watches her team play against Robert Morris during the first round of the NCAA Tournament on Saturday in Toledo, Ohio. (AP Photo/Rick Osentoski)